Actual Reasons Why My OPAC Sucks

Mack asked me, in the comments to my OPAC Sucks button, why my OPAC sucked. I thought it would be nice if I stopped yapping at the mouth and came up with some solid reasons that I disliked my OPAC. If I am going to spew forth the word “sucks” and “OPAC” in front of my Dean, I should be able to say why I hold this opinion.
I think my OPAC sucks because:

    1. results can only be listed in reverse chronological order
    2. results show only the title of the item with a link
    3. it will not correct my bad spelling
    4. you have to know that there are not certain formats in there (like articles)(this is an obvious endorsement for federated searching)
    5. it is ugly and people do not like to look at ugly things
    6. lots of MARC information is displayed that no one cares about, sometimes even the cataloger that had to put it there
    7. it should support tagging and tag searching AND keywords AND subject headings because people like choices (as long as they are labeled in a way that makes sense, see #14)
    8. if I do not type “U.S. News and World Reports” in exactly that fashion with the periods and spaces, my OPAC thinks we do not have this item
    9. no relevance ranking
    10. no full text searching
    11. does not correct my spelling
    12. will not allow me to print a list of marked records with meaningful information without printing out each record individually and most people, including me, do not take the time to do this
    13. user comments would be awesome
    14. In the search display, the user has to choose between keywords and subjects. Most people do not know what the difference is and end up keyword searching in a function only meant to search LCSH.
    15. it does not correct my spelling
    16. with all my practice and training, sometimes I can not find things I know we have, how can I expect my users to find anything?

      Please feel free to add some of your own.

      –Jane, needs to get back to work

      16 thoughts on “Actual Reasons Why My OPAC Sucks

      • June 14, 2006 at 2:06 pm
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        Sad in this day and age of Google and other search systems that libraries should be stuck with anything less than the best search tools. I shouldn’t brag but I find our local library has a fairly great online catalog for patrons — http://catalog.plsinfo.org/search/

        Although it is missing some fuzzy logic for my bad typing.

      • June 14, 2006 at 2:25 pm
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        Excellent list Jane. Wait, maybe I shouldn’t say “excellent” in the context of a list of bad things. Regarding 3, 11, & 15 (spelling), our OPAC doesn’t have a spellchecker either so we licensed the Lucian spellcheck from http://www.jaunter.com/. It is the Google spellchecker and works well. Of course, we shouldn’t have to use a third party add-on but at least there is an option.

      • Pingback: Life as I Know It » Blog Archive » The Main Reason I think OPACs are a Problem

      • June 14, 2006 at 3:18 pm
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        Ed – I love your library’s “add to book bag” feature. How fabulous!

        Mack – I rely on my Google search box in Firefox as a spell check dictionary countless times during the day. My bad spelling is coupled with my inability to look away from my fingers while typing.

        My reply to Life As I know It who thinks we need to keep working with the OPAC because “it is not going away.” – Why can’t we start over? The system is broken, move on.

      • June 14, 2006 at 3:22 pm
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        You forgot one of our favorites (the one that was supposed to be fixed months ago, remember?): the automatic substitution of OR for AND if no results are found. For example, a keyword search on “opac” AND “misery” yields…169 results! Hmmm, sounds about right. Oh…wait…it tried (opac) OR (misery). And applied a completely useless relevance ranking (every single result was worth one star–whatever that means).

        Maybe we’d do better with “opac” AND “sucks.”

        mgh

      • June 14, 2006 at 3:47 pm
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        So…that toggle that lets you switch from date to relevance (titled Search and Sort)…doesn’t work? Granted, it’s only available in the keyword search module.

        See, our opac does some of the things you request, but that means that reason number 16 in your list is extremely important. What good are options if they are buried?

      • June 14, 2006 at 3:56 pm
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        How about if I use boolean “and” for my terms, and the catalog defaults to “or” if it did not find anything with the “and” search. Nothing is more misleading or annoying then thinking you found something only to realize the OPAC “decided” to change the search for you because it is not kosher to admit nothing was found on that particular search. I get then the students asking, “why I am getting all this stuff that does not seem to be what I want?” Care to explain, because I sure can’t do it with a straight face. Thus, my OPAC sucks.

      • June 14, 2006 at 5:08 pm
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        Well, it looks like you earned your right to use that button. At least it corrects your spelling (oh, wait…).

        Though looking at the catalog that I think is yours, I find that I don’t have the same problems with creating a list to print or searching on say, “us news” and getting the right thing. But maybe I’m just looking at the wrong catalog.

        Anyway, I think we have a few things conflated here: there are things in your list that your library could probably change if it had the time/inclination, such as the ugliness and the amount of information on the browse screen. Then there are the things that the vendor could and perhaps is changing like the spell check, user comments, tagging, etc. If they don’t have those features now, they will be happy to sell them to you in 2008.

        But then there is the much more difficult problem of no full text, no articles, etc., which means we are confounding our users’ expectations of what they are searching/searching for. Or the problem that in most cases, we have to wait for the vendor to implement a feature rather than being able to rely on those libraries who do have the time and inclination to build features themselves in the same way that you could install plugins on this WordPress blog). Those are the big problems, and the ones that make me think that the system is really broken. Though you shouldn’t take that to imply that I know what the fix is.

      • June 14, 2006 at 5:21 pm
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        Jane – I know that at my library we will not be overhauling our OPAC any time soon (time issues, fiscal constraints – and the fact that many librarians don’t want to abandon OPACs). I’m not at all opposed to starting over. I think this is the best way to be thinking about OPACs (or whatever we replace them with) – I just wonder how many of us will realistically be able to do this. As such, I don’t think that we can wait to try and improve our services in relation to our current systems. Are other people in this situation??

      • June 14, 2006 at 7:21 pm
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        Wow. Your OPAC DOES suck.

        I agree…if a professional cannot use the tool, how can the amateur?

      • June 14, 2006 at 7:45 pm
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        Dude, I frequently can’t find stuff that I know is on the shelf in my sucky OPAC. It’s hugely embarassing. I’m on the verge of making a set of screenshots to demonstrate this, since I can’t actually link to catalog records. The inability to link to individual records would be reason number 17 in Why My OPAC Sucks. (It does have relevancy ranking. . . sorta–but you have to hunt for it, and the default is last in, first out.)

      • June 14, 2006 at 8:04 pm
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        Steve – in fairness to our cataloging department, the US News and World Reports issue was fixed, a couple days ago, but it is by no means the only example I have come across.

        We have another problem regarding some of our customization issues; we share our catalog with two other campuses and we all want a say in how things look. It is an issue that will have to be resolved… soon.

      • June 14, 2006 at 8:05 pm
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        Oh, and I forgot #17 – no customizable RSS feeds. (well we do not have any at all at the moment, let alone ones we can create ourselves.)

      • June 15, 2006 at 8:39 am
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        Disclaimer: I am a fairly decent speller, despite the fact that I am a bad writer. And I usually have little patience for bad spelling especially from a stubborn librarian that refuses to try typing while looking at the screen (not naming any names).

        That being said I still use spell checkers often but I hate when Microsoft tries to tell me I am spelling something wrong when I am not. So if you were to have a spell checker it would have to be something like Google has where it asks you if you really meant another spelling.

        By the way, I am not a librarian. And I never go to the library. You know why? Because I can never find what I want and it takes too much time to come to that conclusion. If I can’t find it on the internet then I stop my research. I know I am a lazy American, but so are all your patrons.

      • June 15, 2006 at 8:43 am
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        Also, Mr. Rochester can simply call his wife and she magically brings home the book he needs.

        That is the answer! All of our patrons should be married to librarians!

      • July 8, 2006 at 10:58 pm
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        TLC’s pac does address some of these. Go to http://www.tlcdelivers.com then customer listings and look for version 3.2 or 3.3.5. Our version 3.2 does some of these things.

        results can only be listed in reverse
        chronological order
        … sorts by availability, publication date, format, etc. I’m sure if customers requested TLC would work on offering other sort options.

        results show only the title of the item with a link
        … gives title, location, call number, availability

        it will not correct my bad spelling
        … has option to:
        closely match
        stem from
        sound like

        it is ugly and people do not like to look at ugly things
        … I don’t think ours is ugly. We have book jackets that display, which helps.

        lots of MARC information is displayed that no one cares about, sometimes even the cataloger that had to put it there
        … fields that display or not is customizable.

        no full text searching
        … has contains search that can be used across title, author, subjects, and notes

        will not allow me to print a list of marked records with meaningful information without printing out each record individually and most people, including me, do not take the time to do this
        … has option to check titles for list and just brief info printed. Still uses too much paper though.

        user comments would be awesome
        … I agree. Our pac has reviews, character information, and annotations. Staff and patrons like it.

        In the search display, the user has to choose between keywords and subjects. Most people do not know what the difference is and end up keyword searching in a function only meant to search LCSH.
        … That’s true.

        with all my practice and training, sometimes I can not find things I know we have, how can I expect my users to find anything?
        … If you can’t find what you know you have talk to your cataloger or systems admin.
        Cataloger can enhance record with a 246 field if that will help and can check record for errors in the leader, which can also cause failed finds if incorrect.

        I’m not sure who has all of these ugly sucking PACs, but we don’t. Our vendor has done a good job of improving the PAC over the years. Wish it was perfect, and it isn’t, but we do see improvements with each upgrade. Some libraries that go to AquaBrowser say the patrons like it but staff do not because it is slow. They go back to using the ‘classic’ version.

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